Madden NFL 2003
Boom! Bam! Whap! Ex-Raiders head coach John Madden is back with the 13th year of his illustrious pigskin franchise - Madden NFL 2003 for the Xbox system. Adding a few new modes, some gameplay tweaks and plenty of new customization options, this year’s Madden takes an already exquisite NFL football simulation and makes it even better.
As is to be expected, the core gameplay and features found in last year’s version of the game have carried over into Madden 2003. There is still a heavy emphasis on authenticity and players all move around with the same momentum-based realism we’ve come to expect from Tiburon-developed gridiron titles. Franchise, Exhibition, Playoff, and Practice modes are still there (the season mode has been removed), as are the incredibly addictive Madden Cards. Quite simply, no other football title available matches the high quality, simulation-based gameplay that is found in Electronic Arts’ pigskin games, and this year’s iteration is certainly no exception.
The good news is Tiburon adjusted some of the gameplay issues that popped up now and again with Madden 2002. Now defensive backs are much more aware of receiver routes and what is happening within their prescribed zone. It is nice to see your cornerbacks actually make intelligent plays on the ball, instead of letting a cutting receiver cruise right by like they had a tendency to do last year. Tiburon also added a defensive strafing control ability, which allows you to make a player turn and face the line of scrimmage without losing too much in the way of speed. This new feature is invaluable as it allows you to actually face the ball when attempting to make interceptions. No more watching in frustration as the ball bounces off the back of your safety’s helmet.
The Two-Minute Drill mode found in last year’s game has been replaced with the Minicamp mode. Essentially, the Minicamp feature allows you to travel to various cities throughout the country and run drills that will help you sharpen your football skills. Everything from passing and running to kick returning and blocking is covered in this new mode, and as you complete drills you unlock tokens that can be used to purchase Madden Cards. The drills even vary in intensity depending on the difficulty level chosen, so you’ll really get a chance to polish up your gridiron proficiency when challenging the All Pro and All Madden levels.
Since NCAA Football 2003 was released this year for the Xbox, EA included the option to import a senior draft class for Madden’s franchise mode. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as playing through a season in NCAA, earning the Heisman Trophy with your star player, and then watching him get taken in the first round of the NFL draft. And if you’ve spent time inputting actual player names into the team rosters for NCAA, don’t worry, they retain their names when you draft them over to Madden.
Another new addition is the Madden 101 mode, which allows you to practice running various plays while listening to John Madden point out tips and potential pitfalls. Essentially a beefed up practice mode, Madden 101 is more rewarding because, not only is it more in-depth, it also allows you to earn tokens for your efforts. Besides that, there are the great Create-A-Formation and Create-A-Playbook options, which give you the ability to create strategies that fit your personal playing style (though created plays must still abide by NFL rules). Lastly, there is the Situation mode that lets you recreate oodles of classic NFL nail-biters. None of these new modes, features and customization options feel like pointless fluff; all of them help make Madden 2003 a deeper, more refined game than last year’s version.
When it comes to new enhancements made to the game’s visual presentation, gang tackling is easily the most noteworthy addition. Now when surrounded by a group of defenders, the ball carrier doesn’t get sucked into a tackle animation with the player nearest him and leave the rest of the wannabe tacklers flopping on the ground in frustration. Those other defenders can now make a difference in the play. It’s great to see multiple tacklers work together to bring down a stubborn ball carrier, and it really helps Madden look and play that much more like an actual NFL football game.
Despite the new animations and some slightly better faces, the graphics are pretty much the same as last year. Overall this is certainly a good thing, as the Madden engine is quite pleasant on the eyes. Realistic weather effects, smooth player movements and exquisitely modeled stadiums add much to the NFL experience. On a negative note, the textures still don’t take advantage of the Xbox’s hardware power and the sidelines are a bit too sparse. Also, when will EA figure out that Ricky Williams has dreadlocks? How long could it possibly take to program in some longer hair protruding from the back of some of the players’ helmets?
Audio-wise, Madden 2003 takes a few steps forward and one step backwards. The improvements come from some livelier commentary by the new play-by-play announcer, Al Michaels. It’s much easier to listen to Madden’s numerous one-liners now with Michaels there at his side to break up the monotony (as opposed to the extremely unenthusiastic Pat Summerall). The step backwards comes from EA’s decision to add rock ‘n roll tunes instead of the hip hop featured over the past several years. Now that would have been great if they would have signed good artists, but too many of the songs are annoying and should never had made it into the game.
So now we come down to the million dollar question: is Madden NFL 2003 worth you hard-earned cash if you already have last year’s version? In my opinion, yes. Besides the obvious roster updates, you have the enhanced AI, new game modes (Madden 101, Minicamp, etc) and compatibility with NCAA Football 2003 - all features that make this too good a football simulation to pass up. The fine folks at Tiburon have brought Madden one step closer to gridiron perfection and all pigskin fans would do well to snatch it up immediately.
Nine out of ten